More indigenous anger from New Zealand about real science

December 5, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Here’s another kerfuffle that two academics from New Zealand called to my attention. I am letting one of them comment on a recent exchange about a paper involving Maori burning of land, which apparently produced carbon deposits in Antarctica.

The paper below was published in Nature last month, and suggests an explanation for high rates of carbon deposition found in Antarctic ice cores starting about 700 years ago: levels three times higher than in previous centuries.  As the abstract below shows, the most likely explanation was soot being blown towards Antarctica from either Tasmania, New Zealand, or Patagonia.  But the record of fire use (“paleofire” studies), the directionality of carbon distribution, plus the timing (Maori settled New Zealand around 1300), suggests suggests that New Zealand was the source, probably from Maori burning of forests or fields that caused ancillary wildfires.  Here’s a paragraph from the paper (“BB” is “biomass burning”).

Palaeofire records from Patagonia and Tasmania, as well as modelling, indicate that BB prior to European colonization was driven primarily by large-scale climate variations, and that BB in both regions was low for much of the past 700 years when the climate in Patagonia and Tasmania was relatively we (Fig. 1). Indigenous hunter-gatherer populations had been living in Tasmania and Patagonia for millennia before European arrival and probably used small-scale fires for land management However, there is little historical or proxy evidence of large changes in anthropogenic BB before European settlement in the 19th century.

New Zealand was among the last habitable places on Earth to be colonized by humans and charcoal-based fire records indicate a very different BB history than Tasmania and Patagonia. Wildfire was absent or insignificant before about 1300 but widespread during the past 700 years (Fig. 1), with pronounced increases in fire occurrence attributed to arrival and colonization of New Zealand by the Māori and their use of fire for land clearing and management.


For several reasons, this paper angered those who accept Maori “other ways of knowing”, both for its assumed conclusions (“Maori caused pollution”) but also because no Maori were involved in the investigation; the implication being that their different points of view might have changed the paper’s conclusions.  I’m no expert on this, but the degree of anger this paper inspired was conveyed to me by a retired academic from New Zealand, who sent me these links. His/her commentary is indented:

I thought you might be interested in the piece at the link you’ll find below. It appeared a couple of months ago on the website, Scoop, whose purpose is largely the dissemination of press releases. However, they also publish commentaries by prominent journalists and, from time to time, ask experts to comment on significant events and on scientific findings which might be of wider interest than just the particular field in which the research was conducted. The piece below falls into the latter category.

Click on screenshot to read.
More from my correspondent:
It was occasioned by the publication in Nature of an article that suggested elevated levels of black carbon in Antarctic ice cores might be attributable to wildfires set during the early period of Maori settlement in New Zealand/Aotearoa. [See the paper and its link above.] In this case, three local “experts” were asked to respond to the findings and it’s those responses that I thought you might find of interest.
The first response teeters on the brink of invoking Maori ways of knowing but doesn’t quite tumble into the abyss. But it does suggest that the researchers should have asked Maori before publishing their article or, better still, involved Maori in the research itself.
Here’s part of the first response, whose excerpts are in italics:

Dr Priscilla Wehi, Director, Te Pūnaha Matatini Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems, comments:

“It is scientifically spectacular to see an analysis of Antarctic ice cores show fire patterns in Aotearoa over the last millennia so clearly. The topic is fascinating, but does it miss what we already know in our research community? The work led me to reflect on diversity and inclusion in science. A swathe of research tells us that diverse teams create excellent science, and there is gender variation in the author list. Other research has visualised citation and collaboration patterns in science and concluded that research from Australasia and the’ global south’ is often missing from the work of our European and North American colleagues. Although some well-known New Zealand research is cited here, it remains that other excellent research does not seem to have global purchase.

“The authors, based across northern America, Europe and Australia, also apparently lack New Zealand collaboration despite the central topic of Māori burning and fire use. ‘Helicopter science’, where research is led and conducted by those who live and work far from the subject of their work, is currently under scrutiny in the research community. An important critique is that this approach is likely to miss important insights. The ethics of such ‘helicopter science’ have been debated widely over the last year or so, as concerns over the exclusion of different groups from research, including Indigenous peoples, have escalated. Indeed, this issue has been noted by the very journal in which this study is published.

“Issues that have already been researched locally – from dust transport to Antarctica through to population estimates of Māori settlement – are often identified by local collaborators who, one hopes, have additionally been building the next generation of researchers in the nation where the focus of the research is situated. All of this leads me to return to this paper, which I found fascinating, and ask – how much better could this have been, were it more inclusive in its approach?”

My answer is, “We don’t know, but I doubt it would have been better unless they found a Maori scientist who had knowledge equal or superior to that of the scientists who actually participated.

My correspondent in NZ continues:

The second seems a much more reasoned assessment of the sort one might expect from a practising scientist.

Here’s an excerpt from review #2,  which is indeed from a practicing scientist  She points out the possibility that in the 16th and 17th century there could have been soot contributions from Australia and Patagonia, but leaves untouched the Nature-paper evidence that the carbon emissions 700 years ago came from Maori land-burning:

Dr Holly Winton, Rutherford Postdoctoral Fellow, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

. . . “Surprisingly, a new study by McConnell et al. (2021) in Nature suggests that New Zealand has been the dominant source of black carbon to a large sector of Antarctica since the 13th century. An array of black carbon records from ice cores clustered in western East Antarctica and the Antarctica Peninsula were examined over the last 2000 years. Black carbon concentrations in the Antarctic Peninsula record dramatically increased in the 13th century well above previous levels with the highest concentrations in the 16th and 17th centuries.

“The authors associate this with the arrival, and land management practices, of Māori in New Zealand. The Antarctic-New Zealand connection was made by comparing the ice core record to a charcoal record from a lake sediment core in New Zealand which is indicative of local biomass burning. While the magnitude of black carbon change is evident in both records from the 13th century until today, the trend is not. Ice core black carbon peaks in the 16th and 17th century. At the same time, the New Zealand charcoal record declines. This disparity leaves me wondering about additional black carbon sources from Australia and Patagonia during this time, changes in the hydrological cycle or changes in the transport processes that drive the variability in the ice core black carbon record. Australian and Patagonian black carbon was ruled out as charcoal records from these source regions increased well before the 13th century.

My correspondent continues:

However, it is the third response that I thought would most interest you, though “horrify” might be a more apt way of expressing it. For far from teetering on the brink of the abyss this so-called expert (and it’s worth noting that her background is in adult education and not in any recognised scientific discipline) plunges right in, exposing the reader to Matauranga Maori “Science” in all its “glorious” mythology. I think you’ll agree that it strongly reinforces the points you and others have been making over the past few days.

Finally, as worrying as the third response might be for what it shows “other ways of knowing” actually involve, it also highlights a growing problem for scientific research in New Zealand, one which might not be immediately apparent to anyone unfamiliar with our state bureaucracy. In the third paragraph, you’ll see the following:

Obviously these authors have not caught up with the positive changes in research and science in this country where Matauranga Maori within the MBIE Vision Matauranga policy demands Maori involvement, Maori participation and Maori leadership. This involvement starts from the basic premise that we as Maori will tell their own stories and control their own knowledge.

Now, MBIE is New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment so, in her naivety (or more probably ignorance) the third respondent clearly thinks that science is whatever a New Zealand government department defines it to be. Moreover, it would appear that she also thinks that scientists, wherever they might be in the world, are remiss for not recognizing this and amending their practice accordingly.

Of course one could simply smile at the naivety/ignorance of that particular individual (though my inclination would be for a rather less benign response) but to do only that would be to ignore a rather disturbing fact, for one of MBIE’s prime functions is to promote and fund scientific research in New Zealand. So, if the official MBIE view is that Matauranga Maori is of equal status to what you and I and most rational people would consider Science to be, what does that portend for the future of scientific research in New Zealand?

And here is the whole third response:

Associate Professor Sandy Morrison, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Waikato; co-lead for Vision Mātauranga, Antarctic Science Platform; lead for Vision Mātauranga, Deep South National Science Challenge, comments:

“The association of Māori with fire is longstanding. Mahuika goddess of fire gifted her fingernails of flames to enable us to have fire for warmth; fire for sustenance; fire to provide nutrients for the earth. We attribute and honour Mahuika. She is part of our whakapapa. Her mokopuna Māui attempted to reduce her power by tricking her into giving up all of her fingernails but she was able to outwit him, planting her flame into the trees so that fire would be freely available. Fire also defined our boundaries of authority as expressed in this whakataukī ‘ka wera hoki i te ahi, e mana ana anō’ meaning ‘while the fire burns, the mana is effective.’ We claimed occupation of our territories by the principle of ahi kaa, that is, we kept our home fires burning.

“Through our Ātua, gods and goddesses, we developed deeply embedded practises and rituals and our relationship with fire was interdependent, reciprocal, beneficial and also very practical. Upon arrival to these lands, we relied on the aruhe or fernroot as part of our staple diet. We relied on the moa and other birdlife for food. Burning became part of our practises; regular burning allowed plants to regenerate and some of the minerals in the ash provided rich nutrients for the land. Regular burning facilitated hunting and access to hunting grounds. Such practises would be typical for any newcomers creating homes on unfamiliar lands to allow time to become acquainted with seasonal cycles, climatic conditions, finding the best places to lay out their plantations and hence their new settlements or kainga. No doubt some burning would not have been controlled as well as they may have planned, but this can be understood. It is not unlike any other peoples adjusting to new lands and new conditions.

“The internationally authored paper by scientists who examined Antarctic ice core records to find that carbon emissions increased significantly from wildfires after Māori first arrived in Aotearoa is devoid of context, devoid of cultural understandings and is yet another example of what we have grown to expect from western science. It relies on measurements, modelling and silo thinking and the paper whether intentional or not, posits Māori as the ‘naughty’ offenders. Moreover, it reeks of scientific arrogance with its implicit assumption that somehow Māori have a lot to account for in terms of contributing to carbon emissions and destroying the pristine environment of the Southern Oceans and Antarctica. Goodness knows why Māori are primarily emphasised, and for what purpose this article was written. Obviously these authors have not caught up with the positive changes in research and science in this country where Mātauranga Māori within the MBIE Vision Mātauranga policy demands Māori involvement, Māori participation and Māori leadership. This involvement starts from the basic premise that we as Māori will tell our own stories and control our own knowledge. Mātauranga Māori is a living knowledge system rooted in our environmental encounters which was outward looking and relationship based. We are connected in kinship even to fire through Mahuika as the spiritual goddess of fire. Similarly we have relationships with the Southern Oceans and the Antarctica through our stories of voyaging and navigation and food gathering. Our relationships with marine life, bird life and the oceans are well recorded through our intergenerational continuum and held in our tribal lore. These are places to which we also have longstanding relationships where we will not intentionally embark on destructive practises. The principle of kaitikaitanga or guardianship is a mantel of responsibility for us and one we willingly share to improve the wellbeing of our oceans and planet. Please do not distort your scientific evidence nor hide behind the intricacies of scientific modelling to position Māori as the problem. I am sure that you can do better than that.”

Dr. Morrison’s points appear to be these.

a.) She evinces a tacit acceptance of New Zealand “ways of knowing”, though it’s not clear what she believes.

b.) Yes, Maori burned land, but they had to because it was their deeply embedded in their mythology-derived practices. And yes, some fires got out of control.  But that was not the point of the Nature paper, which is not pointing a finger of blame at the Maori. It’s just an investigation of where carbon spikes in Antarctic ice cores came from.

c.) The third paragraph  appears devoid of understanding of the Nature paper itself.  Note that the arrogance said to exist in the paper (i.e., “the Maori polluted Antarctica!”) is nowhere to be found in that paper. The purpose of the paper is obvious, though Morrison doesn’t see it: to account for an anomalous carbon spike. Does she not know that scientists get curious? The whole point of the last paragraph is to impugn modern science compared to Maori “ways of knowing.” Note too the denigration of the paper’s modelling, which was intended to see if New Zealand, given distance and wind, could account for the carbon spikes. The answer was “yes.”

My correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons (several signers of “The Listener” letter have been threatened), notes that there’s a very real possibility that Mātauranga Māori will at least nudge “real” science aside, and thus impede the growth of knowledge.

I shouldn’t have to point out that scientists who defend their discipline and the knowledge it produces should under no circumstances be put in danger of their jobs, careers, or reputations simply for defending the toolkit of science as the best way to understand nature.

New Zealand is a wonderful place, and I love it, but many of its residents have got to stop pretending that there are multiple ways of knowing that can be taken as science! There is no special “Maori science”; there’s just “science.”

49 thoughts on “More indigenous anger from New Zealand about real science

  1. Ugh. I notice that the first response seems to find the original paper, what might be termed, problematicm because it ignores other potential sources, but not that there were any that were relevant or contradicted the findings. The final response seems to impose a modern climate sensibility (carbon bad) to infer a judgement on, and provoke a defense of, historical Maori. Neither of these responses impeach the findings of the original paper, nor add to it. The push for cultural inclusiveness in the practice of Science seems a net detraction to it.

  2. It’s funny and depressing that Morrison thinks researchers from all over the world who are studying samples not collected from New Zealand must recruit Maori coauthors and appoint Maori leaders to the research project, just in case they happen to mention New Zealand in their interpretation of the research results.

    1. Indeed. Luckily, science is likely to cope better with the absence of input from New Zealand than vice versa.

      1. Burning isn’t mostly bad. The forest turns over that way. Smokey the Bear has taught us not to like fires because we think of all that toilet paper and IKEA sawdust furniture that will never get sold. Not saying that Indigenous fires are any more “moral” than other fires but people do need to clear land to farm. If you don’t have chainsaws or even steel axe heads, cutting trees is really really hard. I’d burn ’em, too. Especially if a hostile tribe hunts there.

  3. Yes, no surprise that there would be anger as it seems to attribute agency to indigenous people in carrying-out something that someone could interpret as being bad, even if the paper says nothing about that.

    The indigenous, like all victims, have illusory agency and total innocence.

    1. And a white “mummy” to jump to the Maori children’s defence, whether wanted or not, apparently believing they are incapable of doing that themselves. Very racist, and at the heart of NZ’s (il-)liberal beliefs that turn adult Maori into a hopless, welfare-claiming, underclass. Have some respect. Maybe they are capable of understanding and accepting science, if you’d only give them a chance to find out, rather than molly-coddling them.

  4. Is there any doubt that the Maori caused the extinction of the Moa? Granted, they didn’t “know” what they were doing.

    1. … and in so doing the demise of the Haast eagle followed. It was a full-on predator and if it could take on a Moa of some weight (it would knock them over at speed) humans were “chicken” feed.

    2. What did they think they were doing when they killed the last one? Were they expecting restocking by the Creator? Joke’s on you!

  5. Perhaps the scientists should have had their career horoscopes created before they published? That way they could have backed away from any woo woo debate by letting the Maori activists and the astrologers duke it out. Nuttiness cancelling itself out perhaps?

  6. “…diversity and inclusion in science…” (P. Wehi)

    In other words: The Woke demand that science be descientized and institutionally downgraded, and nonscience be scientized and institutionally upgraded. They really aren’t progressives but reactionaries with an anti-Enlightenment agenda.

  7. I was just sitting here fuming about ‘different ways of knowing’ when I remembered our old (and somewhat worn) idea of Non Overlapping Magisteria.

    A refresher from Wikipedia:

    Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view, advocated by Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets” over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority”, and the two domains do not overlap.

    Does Maori myth overlap with science. No. Facts vs Values.

  8. Re the Listener open letter controversy (it has its own Wikipedia article:

    The new Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi) is Paul Atkins. He took over from the Society’s Acting CEO, Dr Roger Ridley, on 29 November. His email is

    For what it’s worth, I wrote:

    Dear Mr Atkins,

    I am writing to you about reports that the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi is considering the expulsion of RSNZ Fellows Garth Cooper and Douglas Elliffe (and also of Michael Corballis, before his recent sad demise).

    I cannot claim the distinguished scientific accomplishments of many of the Society’s other correspondents on this issue (or indeed of the Fellows whose expulsion is being deliberated by the RSNZ). I can only say that I am a firm believer in evidence-based science and that I am astonished to learn that RSNZ does not share this belief, but instead “strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in [the open letter signed by Cooper, Elliffe, Corballis, and four others in] The Listener“.

    Wikipedia defines science as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe”. Any knowledge that doesn’t meet this basic definition has no place in the science curriculum. If RSNZ no longer believes that essential fact it has seriously lost its way.

    If I had previously been told that an esteemed society such as yours would need reminding of the meaning of science by a member of the public, such as myself, I would have scoffed. It seems I would have been wrong to do so.

    Very best wishes

  9. It is likely that the current brouhaha around science and mātauranga Māori will, hopefully sooner than later, be seen as one aspect of a passing phase in New Zealand’s intellectual and social development. Mātauranga Māori and tikanga (broadly the set of protocols, rules and expectations that govern behaviour in Māori society) are central to Māori culture and hence to the renaissance of that culture which has taken place over the last few decades. That renaissance has done much to improve Māori educational and economic outcomes and Māori participation in national life. Not unnaturally, Māori seek to preserve their own culture and beliefs and inevitably this results in conflicts, especially when an exaggerated view is taken of elements of those beliefs or is advanced for political reasons.

    At the moment New Zealand is witnessing an intensification in the adaption of Māori and the mainstream, predominantly European culture, to each other. This process has both positive and negative consequences, the issues being debated here obviously being one of the negative. In other spheres one can point to strong mutually advantageous and positive outcomes, for example in the increasing recognition of tikanga as part of the New Zealand common law or the importance of understanding Māori values and beliefs in social science research and is some areas of biological and environmental research. An example of particular importance currently is the need for an understanding of those values and beliefs for the delivery of Covid-19 vaccinations to a population many of whom are suspicious of “western” science and medicine. It is predominately Māori who are fully aware of the relevant science,driving initiatives both in communicating the necessity for vaccination and for the physical delivery of the vaccine.

    1. >That renaissance has done much to improve Māori educational and economic outcomes and Māori participation in national life.

      Is that true? When we visited South Island (where relatively fewer Māori live) for a month in Feb 2018, we saw on the news that a major government report on disparities in educational and economic achievement and social health showed that little progress had been made in closing them. We see similar reports like this in Canada all the time and were disappointed that the somewhat more Leftie, inclusive tilt in NZ had not born much more fruit than we have.

  10. It is very heartening to see Professors Coyne and Dawkins giving wider publicity to this issue. It has been increasingly bugging me. I have no direct skin in the game – I’m an NZ-resident Pom with a PhD in physics, but no longer working in science, and my son is safely past the age when this kind of bollocks can have any impact on his education, but I find the whole trend deeply disturbing for the future of science in this country.
    With regard to the Antarctica paper, I was going to comment but was pre-empted by the quoted comments above, which are pretty much identical to what I would have said. Some further comment may be found in an article in “The Guardian” here:

    It’s hard to know exactly what the gripe was. I was particularly struck by comments by Dan Hikuroa, not a scientist, but senior lecturer in Māori studies at Auckland University
    “It’s not that the science is wrong. It’s just that the findings could have been richer.”
    Needless to say, he has nothing to say about the way in which the findings could have been “richer”.
    On the more general topic of what exactly Mātauranga Māori is, I find it extraordinarily hard to get a handle on this. Its proponents will often get outraged at claims that it is not science, but then will talk about different ways of knowing, of which I can make absolutely no sense, incommensurability, holistic worldviews, and so on. I find it strangely reminiscent of the Medieval double-truth theory, in which science and religion can appear to contradict each other but are both true “In their own sphere”, very handy for example when trying to reconcile the Copernican system with the biblical account of the sun standing still at the battle of Jericho. Some light may be sought, in my case in vain, in two special issues of the “New Zealand Science Review” here:
    New Zealand Association of Scientists – Special Issue
    Here you will find, for example, in the discussion of Māori astronomy, that Māori have a different concept of time, and that the Gregorian calendar is essentially a tool of colonial oppression – hence the need for a doubtless expensive expert committee to decide on the date of our newest public holiday Mātariki (essentially the heliacal rising of the Pleiades) according to one of the many lunar calendars in use.

    I wish I could share commenter Gordon’s confidence that this is a passing phase, but I fear that it is becoming entrenched within the NZ educational system – the knee-jerk response to the original Listener letter by Dr Wiles (a microbiologist) and Prof Hendy (sadly, a physicist) does not inspire hope. Like recruits like, and you can even get a degree in this stuff – for example:
    Science, Maori and Indigenous Knowledge | University of Canterbury

    Finally, I note that Prof Douglas Eliffe, one of the signatories to the Listener letter, has expressed thanks for the support in a comment to a previous post. What he did not point out is that he has felt it necessary to resign from his role as acting dean of science in order to avoid division within the university:

    Many thanks again to Prof Coyne for his ongoing coverage of this issue.

    1. An excellent and informative comment. I do believe that it is a poor response to apologise for something factual that others are outraged about, and it is also a poor response to voluntarily resign from an organisation that is sucked into the outrage. It only encourages more ‘outrage’ in the future.

      Having said that ‘walking away’ might be the best personal choice especially if your peace of mind or career might otherwise be blighted.

  11. It was rather unfortunate to see Dr Wiles signing the response to the letter. Signing knee-jerk responses is seldom a good idea.
    For those outside NZ, Dr Wiles has been an incredibly lucid and proactive science commentator on the Covid-19 pandemic and has a very strong and trusted public profile in this regard – and I believe a number of great of animations from a collaboration of her and Toby Morris have been seen intenationally.

  12. A non- scientist asks; is it possible to determine the type of trees, brush etc. that was burned by examining the carbon ‘footprint’ found in Antartica and then possibly determining it’s origin?

    1. It might be. Different groups of plant use slightly different pathways of photosynthesis and as a result have different ratios of heavy carbon isotopes (13C) to normal carbon isotopes (12C). For instance, corn and wheat are very different and you can even tell if a person’s diet was mainly one or the other. So if the average signature of plants from New Zealand is distinctive from that of plants from Australia and Patagonia, it might be possible to tell burnt matter from these plants apart that way. But my hunch is there would be too much of an overlap. Probably a better way would be to look at pollen deposited with the soot – if the soot travelled so would pollen – which would tell you a lot more about the type of plant.

  13. On a positive note, were it not for this kerfluffle, I would not have known that the Maori wound up in NZ just 700yrs ago. I would have thought that they had been there for at least a few millenia if not more.

  14. One of the common “different ways of knowing” that seem common globally is the fact that many of these cultures lack written languages.
    we cannot go to the Pāpāwai archives, and read the 14th century records on agricultural progress, how much land was cleared and planted, using what particular processes.
    If you want that sort of data, you need to excavate, then do analysis.

    Really, that sort of analysis should reveal the same results if performed by a competent researcher, no matter their location or background.

    “Note that the arrogance said to exist in the paper (i.e., “the Maori polluted Antarctica!”) is nowhere to be found in that paper. The purpose of the paper is obvious, though Morrison doesn’t see it: to account for an anomalous carbon spike.” Here you reveal a bias. A lot of people cannot conceive of finding an anomaly, then looking for it’s cause, just because it is an anomaly, and investigating it adds to the body of knowledge. These people need their conclusions to support some sort of agenda. Some cultures never got to agriculture. It is an accomplishment, and I don’t think anyone expects people at their technological level to practice anything but stone age agriculture.
    It does not involve judging them.

  15. “The internationally authored paper by scientists who examined Antarctic ice core records to find that carbon emissions increased significantly from wildfires after Māori first arrived in Aotearoa is devoid of context, devoid of cultural understandings and is yet another example of what we have grown to expect from western science. It relies on measurements, modelling and silo thinking …”

    The notion that science papers should include cultural understandings is the first mistake, and the idea that there should be more than measurements and modeling is the second mistake. They want a work of cultural celebration from every paper, when in fact science papers are all dull and boring and have no cultural context or understanding and are full of measurements and modeling. We in fact would criticize science papers if they deviated from that very much. They aren’t supposed to be works of art!

  16. I do not understand the fuss about the Maori massively influencing and shaping the land when they settled New Zealand in order to make it usable for them.

    After all, there is plenty of evidence that North and South America were extensively used agriculturally by indigenous people before colonization by Europeans. On both continents there were hardly any original jungles, forests and steppes through which hunter-gatherers moved in clan or tribal associations. On the contrary, there existed well-organized cities and state-like structures.

    1. Virtually everything you say here is wrong. No forests in North and South America? What about the rain forest?
      Extensive agriculture among hunter-gatherers? Steppes in North and South America?
      Well organized cities in North America?

      I have never seen a post that contains so many errors in such small spaces.

      Finally, you clearly didn’t get the point of my post, as neither I nor anybody else was objecting to Maori “shaping the land”; the point was whether their burning practices caused a spike in the ice cores of Antarctica.

      1. My statement was actually in reference to comment 3 by Sandy Morrison, as Jeremy Pereira correctly recognized.

        I apologize for not making it sufficiently clear which is probably also due to a faulty translation from German into English.

        I was actually going to refer to these findings about the Amazon rainforest.

        The Amazon rainforest is the epitome of a last great wilderness under threat from modern man. It has become an international cause celebre for environmentalists as powerful agricultural and industrial interests bent on felling trees encroach ever deeper into virgin forest. But the latest evidence suggests that the Amazon is not what it seems.

        As more trees are felled, the story of a far less natural Amazon is revealed – enormous man-made structures, even cities, hidden for centuries under what was believed to be untouched forest. All the time archaeologists are discovering ancient, highly fertile soils that can only have been produced by sophisticated agriculture far and wide across the Amazon basin.

        1. If you are a long-time resident of Europe your view of the Americas pre-Contact may have been shaped by fanciful accounts supposedly obtained from fictional Native people about the sophistication of their government and cultures, including the anticipation of the text of the U.S. Constitution. These tales from faraway places were popularized in Europe as the “noble savage” trope. (I stress that the French sauvage translates as “wild”, not as we understand “savage” in English—an example of a “false friend”, just as une librairie is a bookseller, not a free lending library.)

          Frances Widdowson debunks these myths in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry.

          While horticulture of a number of important vegetables, corn (maize to Europeans), and the infernal tobacco was practiced where soil was loose enough to be worked without ploughs or draft animals, there were no formal settled agricultural societies north of the Rio Grande. When the soil became exhausted, the nomads would pack up and move on, just as they did when the surrounding forest no longer produced game or, later, furs. This is not to say that some Native people did not take to technological agriculture when it was introduced. But farming is hard, risky work. Not everyone who tries it can make a go of it, especially when the settlers already know how to farm and break sod on the good land for themselves.

  17. Does this imply that Jesse Wall of The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, will be forced to resign as Associate Editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics? Does this imply that John McMillan, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, will be forced to resign as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics?Source:

    Or does this imply that Jesse Wall and John McMillan are forced to ensure that all manuscripts for the Journal of Medical Ethics adhere for the full 100% to the new policy for New Zealand scientists?

    Anyone any idea?

  18. The irony here is a bunch of people objecting to science overstepping it’s bounds, demanding as a solution that scientific papers overstep their bounds.

    As PCC points out several times, the paper is about explaining a spike in Antarctic ice cores, not much more. Yes the most likely explanation is human activity in NZ, but there’s no value judgment placed on that human activity. Frankly to demand a geology paper talk about such values would be to demand the scientists speak way outside the scope of the actual research and likely outside the scope of their expertise.

    I have a suggestion: if the NZ government thinks it is important to discuss the values and sociological issues raised by physics, biology, geology, etc., then why not fund a journal where experts in Maori culture and cultural practices review ‘hard’ science papers and talk about the sociological significance of their findings. That way (1) you have actual trained sociologists writing about sociology rather than geologists, chemists, etc. trying to do it, (2) the government can easily select experts of native heritage to write those articles if that’s what they want, and (3) the geologists, biologists etc. don’t have to worry about their papers getting rejected by hard science journals for going outside or beyond the scope of the journals’ topic.

  19. This seems to me to be an example of the way anti-capitalists venerate the environmental stewardship of indigenous peoples. Even though this paper was factual, and completely absent any moral judgment, it suggests that the Maori burned forests in substantial amounts. The thought process goes: in today’s milieu releasing carbon = bad, therefore the paper is tacitly suggesting that Maori = bad.

    I think progressives are so used to imposing moral judgments that they see moral judgment everywhere they look. They can’t just accept facts as facts — they must be part of a narrative.

    1. “Progressives” is painting this with a broad brush. This thinking is a combination of old ’70s Hippy “peaceful primitive living in harmony with nature” thinking slathered over with an icing of woke “your ideas cannot be spoken because they hurt me” logic. Both groups are smaller than “progressives,” and the Venn intersection of people who think both is smaller still.

  20. Some political context to explain this reaction might be informative:

    The narrative that gets promoted in New Zealand is that Maori are the “Guardians of the Land”. That is, Maori are more “in tune” with nature and better at preserving the environment than New Zealanders of European descent. The implication is that Maori should be given greater political power and ownership when it comes to natural resources. This pops up as a political issue every few years. The most recent example is an ongoing attempt to transfer ownership/control of water rights to Maori.

    Thus it’s rather inconvenient when someone points out that the arrival of Maori in New Zealand coincided with massive deforestation and the extinction of several species. I think that is the motivation for these responses.

  21. I know it’s been some time since this was written, but if I were the papers authors, I’d charge defamation.

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